I like change. No, that is not entirely true, so I will clarify it, but I want to make the point that change is not always problematic for all autistics. I like change that I instigate. I find change in the built environment interesting if it is not my immediate environment. Like many autistics, I do not like imposed changes.
One of the reasons that other people assume I am not on the autistic spectrum is that I move house and indeed countries with an alarming regularity – or rather I have done most of my life, currently there are no plans to move for quite some time, if ever. I find this assumption interesting because it assumes that moving house is a traumatic change, which I know is that case for many people, regardless of their neurology. However, in my case, I grew up like this. I had lived in over 18 homes by the age of 18, in a total of seven countries in three different continents. Thus, it could be argued moving is normal to me.
And yet, I can eat the same food for days, weeks or even months. I can happily have the same clothes in my wardrobe for years and do not feel the need to change my hairstyle or a myriad other things. When I work with families of autistic children who ask if they should create and maintain strict routines or continue to have the typical lives of most people where there is a loose routine with a number of changing variables, I err on the side of change.
Change in itself is not problematic it is more about control and predictability that are the issues. So if I choose to change something in my life, I know what I am changing from to (I am in control and I can predict what is going to happen). However, if there is an imposed change, for example a bus is cancelled or my plane is delayed, that is stressful because I do not know the outcome and I am not in control of my immediate future – will I be able to get where I need to go? What consequences will there be if I am late or cannot get there?
So for me, moving house, whether down the road or to a new continent, it represents the same change. This change is; pack up household into boxes, pay someone to transport or hire van and load and unload, unpack boxes in new house, put up pictures – this makes the house/apartment become home. It is predictable – the boxes will take ages to pack, something will break in the move, unpacking will lead to more stuff than there is storage space for and I will get lost the first time I go to work unless I have a GPS. Plus, I am in control – as I child, I could arrange my new room however I wanted and as an adult I can put things where I want in my new home (thanks to a very understanding partner).
All children need to learn how to handle change and for autistic children I would argue that this is even more important and that creating a strict routine during the early years a family is setting a child up to find transitions to school and beyond even harder than they would otherwise be. The world is not routine, the only thing in the world that is routine is change. People change, places change and things change. When children have predictability – in other words they are helped to know and understand what change is going to happen and why and when and how, and what the outcome will be, this can help them get used to change. In addition if they can be given opportunities to create change, no matter how small, they can learn how to manage change and choose responsibly as well as evaluate choices and learn from mistakes.